Friday, March 31, 2006

Half Empty or Half Full?

The Season in a Nutshell
(Courtesy Steve Perez Detroit News)

Michigan 64 South Carolina 76

And so ends another Michigan Basketball season.

I’m really not sure if I should be happy or disappointed. I guess I’m a little of both.

On one hand I’m happy the season’s over with. No more “we shoulda made the tournament”. No more whining about injuries. No more watching Michigan fold against decent teams. No more Courtney Sims, at least for a summer. No more of the season from Hell. The season of infinite injuries, inexplicable losses, and diminished expectations is finally over.

On the other hand I’m still a tad disappointed about the outcome. After Michigan’s four-o run through the NIT, I really expected a better game out of them. I’m a little sad or disappointed for the following reasons:

1. The season is actually over. In covering the team during the latter half of the season, I really began to re-appreciate the beauty of the college game. While that may sound cliché, I actually mean it. I really enjoyed watching college basketball for the first time in years because of this Michigan team. It was fun to live and die by a Horton three or a Hunter dunk. Because I hadn’t done it in so long, I almost forgot how to feel when I watched Michigan play basketball. Though I was exasperated during Michigan’s prolonged slump towards the end of the regular season, their NIT run rejuvenated me. It was so much fun to watch when they played well. And now that’s over, and that’s disappointing.

2. Daniel Horton, Graham Brown, and Chris Hunter are graduating. Thought they’re all leaving, focus on the last word in that sentence. Graduating. How cool is it that three of our best players actually stuck around Ann Arbor long enough to earn a degree, instead of playing for the Knicks. Not to pipe the horn of self indulgence, but a Michigan degree is a big accomplishment. When your players graduate before moving on, it’s a big deal. Daniel Horton will play at the next level, so at least we’ll get to see him play and remember his 39 point effort against Illinois every time he comes off the bench. (Thanks Dan. Photo courtesy Steve Perez Detroit News). Chris Hunter has a shot of making an NBA team. A long one, but at worst he can make a living overseas playing ball. Graham Brown, the gigantic white boy with the oxymoronic name will be doing something else for a living. The only person in that trio we’re likely to see again is Horton. These guys guided Michigan Basketball through some of its darkest hours without a complaint and with pride. Now they’re leaving. And that makes me a little sad.

3. The game itself was very disappointing. Michigan was never really in the game. They never led and the closest they got was 3 points in the first half. Nothing worked. While yesterday I said Tommy had made some good decisions down the stretch run to get Michigan to the finals, last night he reverted to his Minnesota/Indiana/Ohio State game plans. How you don’t force the ball into Courtney Sims in that game is a mystery to me. He finally has a decent game and you completely go away from him. Yes I’m aware S. Carolina has a very talented and athletic frontcourt, but you have to at least try to feed the hot hand. Sims was hot on Tuesday. You have to give him a chance to do it again. Instead, even though he collected only one foul, Sims only saw 19 minutes of action. Next, when you’re down 12 with 11 minutes to go, a zone defense? Are you kidding me? It was completely predictable. Every game for the last eight games, at some random time in the Second Half Amaker will switch to a zone defense for no reason. Tommy. Listen to me. When you’re losing, you need the ball back. You don’t give the other team 30 seconds of pressure free basketball to run out the clock with. One word: Dumb.

4. Michigan’s game plan was a mystery to me. Every time there was actual ball movement they got points. Too often Hunter would try to do it all himself. Too often the guards would lift up a bad, covered outside shot. Too often no one was there to fight for a rebound. What surprised me most was that S. Carolina wanted that game more. Based on their wins against quality opponents (cough…FLORIDA…cough), even with 15 losses, they felt they should’ve been in the NCAA tournament. So they used Michigan to prove it. They were faster to every lose ball and quicker around the baseline. Their spacing on the floor was excellent and the passing was crisp. I was disappointed Michigan could not match that.

5. The Refs sucked. The “blocked” three pointer? How in God’s name they missed that I can't explain. The ball was practically in the cylinder. Unless Petra Nemcova is taking her top off at center court there is no excuse for missing that call. On the plus, side Tommy Amaker got pissed, for once. He then receded into his cocoon of apathy following his outburst. Most of Michigan’s foul calls were questionable, the third on Abram at the start of the Second Half was a joke. We still wouldn’t have won, but at least it would’ve been closer.

The game really encapsulated everything we liked and disliked about Michigan this season.

1. These guys were athletic. Brent Petway’s hops are beyond description. However they can get a tad bit ridiculous. Exhibit A: the missed Horton/Petway alley oop that that killed three people in the first row when Petway mishandled the ball in mid air. Even though I was annoyed he’d missed the dunk, it was funny listening to the color guys talk about how the dude in the front row now had “Spaulding” permanently emblazoned on his forehead. The worst was when he broke through half the S. Carolina defense for a dunk and almost ripped his own arm off on the rim. If he had I’m sure he would’ve used it to bludgeon Ronaldo Balkman with it.

2. They weren’t athletic enough. S. Carolina was A LOT quicker than Michigan. Their guards were faster than ours and they had some fast hands. Coming away with 10 steals in a championship game is impressive, even if it is the NIT. S. Carolina’s big men were also a lot more physical and athletic than ours. Balkman alone destroyed us. Michigan does not have the beef or the skill to compete with teams that have a true big man. Ohio State/Michigan State/S. Carolina/etc. Hunter was a good forward. Somewhere in between power and small forward. But he and Graham Brown, even with all of his elbows, didn’t have the ability all year to match up with a big man who possessed both of their skills.

3. There is some talent on this team. Horton goes without saying. Dion Harris’ shooting slump is more of a mirage than anything. Hopefully with a summer to recuperate he’ll rediscover his shot. Remember he was shooting in the high 40’s before his ankle injury. For Brent Petway, see above. Despite the fact Sims was barely used in this game when he did get the ball he was aggressive. His lone shot in the second half came off a very good post move and an aggressive spin to the rim. While the shot was a little too hard to go in he did the right things. He actually wanted to succeed when given the opportunity. That’s a good sign. Lester Abram, when not injured or in foul trouble, is a damn good player. When he was actually on the court I thought he played okay. But its hard to find a rhythm when you only play for 17 minutes. It’s a solid core.

4. There’s not enough talent on this team. Horton, basically our entire offense, is gone. When he scores below twenty, we usually lose. No one coming back has the talent to take this team on its shoulders. While all the guys above are good players, there isn’t a superstar, or for that matter even a gas giant that might become a star. If Tommy can ink Patrick Beverly we may be in business. That’s a big if.

5. Coaching. Coaching. Coaching. Ugh. This was not one of Tommy’s better games. True to form, when the game is (moderately) important he collapses. I thought it was pretty funny when Dave Odom, S. Carolina’s coach, said that after watching 30 minutes of Michigan film it was pretty obvious what they were trying to do. 30 minutes to Michigan. That’s pretty sad. If you can’t throw a single new look at a team in a playoff game, that’s bad news. The zone defense, the lack of set plays, the lack of execution, the inability to teach anyone other than Graham Brown how to rebound, not good. But whether we like it or not, Tommy’s here to stay. If you get a chance, write him a letter asking him to go to coaching clinics or rebounding seminars. Please. I begging you.

Still. All really is well in my mind now that the season is over. It was fun. It was exciting at times. Others it was maddeningly frustrating. But, for the first time in years, I actually cared about Michigan basketball. That makes it all worth it.

More Break Down:

Man That's One Smooth Malt Liquor: Best Headline Ever. On top of that, the Free Press has a great break down of the game and season. Spoiler: lots and lots of sarcasm.

Huh? The Detriot News says the Wolverines couldn't match Amaker's intensity. Really? They looked asleep to me. The News also says with all of Michigan's returning talent they should make the NCAA's next year. They also caveat that with the recruiting of Patrick Beverly. Dick Vitale is also mentioned giving his usual handjob to any former Duke assistant.

"See You Next Time Around": Nathan Fenno of the Ann Arbor News has a write up on the game as well. In it he comes to the right conclusion, this is not how this season should've ended. Not in the NIT, but in general. All I can say is that hopefully the security guard quoted is wrong.

Nice Piece on Horton: Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor news says farwell to Daniel Horton. In addition, Horton was named to All NIT Tournament Team.

Johnny Was There: RBUAS will be doing a round up on the game based on his experience. Here's a brief glimpse of what's coming up.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I think "Cockblocked" would have bested the Freep's headline choice, but that's probably not printable.

Carry on.

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Johnny said...

I've said it a hundred times- I don't think Amaker is a very good coach. But watching him at the press conference yesterday, it was hard to be angry that he hasn't been fired. Save for his parents, Bill Martin, and maybe his wife, the entire fanbase doesn't like the guy, and yet he continually takes more of the blame than he should. It wasn't like Dion and Lester were worth a shit these last two games, you know? I'm really a sucker for nice guys who keep a good program together, which is why I'll never be able to call for Lloyd or Tommy's head. They're both incredibly respectable people, and for that I can't complain.

Very well done, Dave.


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